Under the Knife: MLB Injury Analysis on Harper, Wright, Bautista and More

Will Carroll@injuryexpertSports Injuries Lead WriterJuly 3, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 30:  Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals takes a lead off of second base in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park on June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Oven Mitts? That's what the Washington Nationals are using to protect both Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, essentially. With Harper coming back on Monday after missing eight weeks rehabbing from thumb surgery, it appears he's wearing the mitt to protect his hand on the bases, though nothing is known about why Zimmerman is also wearing it. Dan Steinberg has a good picture, but there's not enough of a look to tell what this is or why. 

A few weeks ago, Billy Hamilton wore something like this that was more of a sliding glove. He was asked to take it off by an umpire and I haven't seen it since, so I can't tell if this is similar. Harper and Josh Hamilton accentuate the risk of sliding, though Hamilton is more old school, reminding us that stealing bases like Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman does come with a toll on the body.

If the new mitts or sliding gloves or Alex Torres' hat are a sign, it's that we are at least seeing a little safety innovation on the field. It may be a very early stage, but there are a few new things out there that with some iteration could make the game better. Losing one of the top stars for two months isn't good for the game. Perhaps the next commissioner will put together some sort of X Prize for safety, putting a bounty up for anyone who can put together something that can save the game millions. 

For now, we have plenty of injuries to look at as we continue on the record pace of pitcher and overall injuries. As we near the halfway point of the season, the injury stats are stark that this is perhaps the one area of the game where innovation and creativity could have a real impact. Are we at a tipping point? I can't tell, but I do feel more awareness. For now, let's look around the league...

TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 2: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a solo home run in the first inning during MLB game action against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 2, 2014 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Get
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images


Jose Bautista

Watching how the Toronto Blue Jays are managing Jose Bautista's hamstring injury is a master class. Bautista is going to be used carefully, with Anthony Gose acting as a caddy, to make sure that the All-Star outfielder doesn't have to overtax his hamstring while still providing power to the Jays, as noted by Yahoo Canada. This is taking a careful balance between the medical staff and the field staff, so it's worth tipping the cap to John Gibbons and George Poulos here.

Bautista is clearly not back to 100 percent and is barely running at more than a jog. That's smart, though difficult to pull off, as there have been some plays, especially on the bases, where Bautista's natural instincts have kicked in. Still, the Jays medical staff has escaped any setbacks, which allows it to at worst keep Bautista at a very functional level.

The team has clearly been aiming at the All-Star break as its goal. A couple extra days of rest could push the hamstring back to a near-normal state and allow it to use him more normally. There's going to be some risk of reinjury for a while, but Bautista has made it this far, which is a positive. The break and continued smart usage could mean nearly a full win for the Jays, one the medical staff should get credit for, especially if that's the difference between the playoffs and heading home.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press


David Wright

Bruised rotator cuff? That's a tough one to do. It's hard to bruise a muscle like that without having other associated damage, but maybe this diagnosis is a bit more complex than what it sounds like. Wright's internal workings aren't significantly damaged and certainly not strained or otherwise structurally unsound, but something's going on in there. 

A bruise isn't necessarily the simple traumatic lesion that we normally think of. Inside the body, it's an indication of some sort of damage, often chronic in nature. Again, that idea doesn't seem to be in play with Wright, but this is a bit of a stumper, even for the doctors and ATs I spoke with.

Wright is out until Friday, according to NJ.com, but even that is a bit of a moving target. There's a retro disabled list move there if they want it and with the All-Star Game coming up, he would miss less than most 15-day periods.

The Mets are in an odd position with the face of the franchise, and trying to figure out how much difference he makes in the lineup as they decide whether they're sellers is even more complicating. Stay away from Wright in your fantasy lineup until we know whether his shoulder will affect his swing and his power.

Colin E. Braley/Associated Press


Hanley Ramirez

The Dodgers have two decisions coming up regarding Hanley Ramirez. They'll decide whether or not a strained calf will send him to the DL before Thursday's game, per the LA Times, and at some point in the near future, the front office will have to decide if it's really going to give him a long-term, big-dollar deal. Given his injury history informing both decisions, I'm not sure why it's tough for the Dodgers.

Ramirez's calf strain came immediately on his return from a shoulder problem. These kind of multi-system injuries are indicative of a full-system breakdown in some cases and conditioning issues in others. Did Ramirez simply slack on his conditioning and come back as a risk for the kind of leg injury he got? We can't know that from outside, but it's certainly been a pattern in his career.

The team is using him as a pinch hitter, so the retro move is gone, indicating that at least there's some hope that he won't need a DL stint this time. It's tough to say with Don Mattingly, who has regularly gone against the advice of his medical staff over his Dodger tenure, so there's that additional complication. I don't think Ramirez will go to the DL, but he's very risky over the next few days. Again, the All-Star break could be a big help for him, assuming he sticks around for treatment.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press


Evan Gattis

A bulging disc is never a good thing, but don't panic too much about Evan Gattis. Gattis is a big bear of a man and those muscles and core should help here. Gattis' issue is in the thoracic part of his spine, which is usually well supported. He'll get an epidural injection to try and reduce the inflammation, likely in a series of as many as three.

The concern is that the injections won't help with the inflammation or the pain and that Gattis will miss far more than the 15 days the Braves are hoping for. There's no good range on this. Players with injuries like this can be out from a matter of days to a full season or even longer. 

There's little we can learn from the outside until we see Gattis back doing baseball activities. A short layoff from those means he'll be back quickly, but if he misses much time beyond 10 days, he'll need to do more to get back, perhaps including a short rehab stint. Another complicating factor is whether or not he'll catch. The Braves can be flexible with that, so I don't believe it will delay a return, whenever that happens.

Duane Burleson/Associated Press


Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes has a laser rocket arm, but his legs seem a bit more human. He's skipped in and out of the A's lineup for the last week as he deals with a minor hamstring strain. Nick Paparesta and his staff have given the A's a big boost in terms of injury stats, but small tests like this don't show up in those and are just as important.

Keeping Cespedes in the lineup is more key for the A's than most teams. Power is lacking, especially with Josh Reddick out, and depth is at a premium for a team that simply doesn't have much of it. In places, they can replace a player and not lose much, but with a few of their players, there's simply too much of a talent gap. The training room is supposed to be an all-equal facility, but baseball shouldn't work that way. Not everyone is of equal value.

Cespedes was back in the lineup on Wednesday, noted by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, but watch to see if he can slow down a bit and give the legs a week of "rest." He doesn't seem the type that is aware enough to play at a safe level, so this is a very risky week. If he can make it to the All-Star break without a setback, that's a very positive sign and another plus for Paparesta.

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 22:  Houston Astros manager Bo Porter #16 (L) and general manager Jeff Luhnow wait near the batting cage prior to the start of the game against the Seattle Mariners at Minute Maid Park on April 22, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Sc
Scott Halleran/Getty Images


Ground Control

The Astros have a system they use to handle all their data, including emails, that they cutely call Ground Control. This week, the contents of that system were hacked or leaked and published at Deadspin. The fallout around the league isn't the worst for the Astros, but losing scouting reports and some internal metrics could hurt whatever competitive advantage they think they have. 

What is worrisome is whether medical records are also included in the leaks. MLB uses a different injury tracking and medical record system across baseball, standardizing all of these reports and making them quickly accessible in trades. Talking to people with knowledge of the Ground Control system, there were significant parts of it that did have medical and performance information. If that leaked—and there's indication that parts of it did—it's more serious.

Systems like this are becoming the norm. I can remember seeing the first such system, the Indians' Diamond View, almost 10 years ago, and can hardly imagine what it looks like now. Security is a big concern, but don't expect that teams will develop a hacking department alongside their scouting department. The Astros will just need a new system now, called Damage Control.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 4: C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees stands during warm ups before the start of their game against of the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on June 4, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Image
Rich Schultz/Getty Images


CC Sabathia

The Yankees like what they see so far from CC Sabathia, enough that they're shifting him around during his rehab to line him up for the anticipated return, as noted by MLB.com. Sabathia has had no problems with his knee and is merely working on command and stamina through the series of starts. He's still on track to make it back to the Yankees right around the All-Star break, but there are some indications that it could come sooner rather than later even with the break. 


Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha has a very strange shoulder injury, but the key is not what it is, but why. The stress reaction in his shoulder blade was caught early, but there's still no clarity on what caused this. This is a perfect application for biomechanical analysis, but there's not going to be a "before picture" to work with.

Still, once Wacha does begin  to throw, understanding the forces acting on his shoulders would be important. It would also be good to know whether any changes that he made caused positive or negative consequences to his arm. Fixing his shoulder but putting more pressure on his elbow wouldn't be a good outcome. This is definitely going to be a huge test for the Cardinals medical staff when he does start throwing again, which should be around the six-week mark.

LM Otero/Associated Press


Derek Holland

Derek Holland is making some progress, but the Texas Rangers don't seem to be in a rush. Holland has missed the entire season after an offseason accident caused Holland to need significant knee surgery. Baseball has a terrible record getting players back after microfracture surgery, but Holland's area was very limited.

Holland is doing well in his sim games, building up some arm strength, but the Rangers won't start a rehab assignment for about another week. He's likely to do that in Frisco with rehab ace Carlos Olivas and could take the full 30 days possible before returning. Watch his control more than his stamina once he gets back in games. 

David Zalubowski/Associated Press


Carlos Gonzalez

Carlos Gonzalez is making nice progress after having a small benign tumor removed from his finger. He's hitting off a tee, but the key for Gonzalez is that losing the tumor regained a lot of movement in his finger immediately.

He'll need to make sure that his grip strength is back, but I talked with a scout who has watched Gonzalez closely for several years who explained to me that Gonzalez's swing doesn't put as much pressure on that finger as most. Look for him to amp up the swings and get to a rehab assignment in as little as 10 days. 


Nolan Arenado

While going 2-for-8 isn't inspiring, Nolan Arenado didn't have many problems besides getting hits on his rehab assignment. He was there to make sure that his finger would hold up and that his grip strength was fine.

On those counts, he's fine and could be back, but there is still some question about the amount of swing-and-miss. That could take a while longer as he knocks off rust and gets the grip strength and bat control back to normal levels. Don't expect him to be quite the contact hitter as normal, but when you start to see an uptick, make sure he's in your lineup. 

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 23:  Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker #32 of the Seattle Mariners pitches in a simulated game prior to the game against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field on May 23, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images


Taijuan Walker/James Paxton

Patience is hard in baseball, but sometimes it pays off. The Mariners have waited most of the season for two pitchers they hope to build around. James Paxton has made only a handful of starts, and his rehab has been stop and start. Taijuan Walker's situation started earlier but finally has progressed past a number of setbacks to put him in the major league rotation. His first start was solid, and his stuff was good despite nerves and the occasional mistake pitch. 

The Mariners deserve credit for focusing more on getting them back in the right way than just getting them back. They've been able to tread water all the way to a playoff slot and with both pitchers, they escape some of the innings limit questions they faced due to the injuries.

Fatigue is still going to have to be monitored, but it's easier to do so, even into October, given the later starts. The Mariners could go on quite the run as their rotation gets deep. 



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